A decade ago having a website was encouraged but not an absolute necessity. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist and Google™ was smaller than Yahoo.
Flash forward to 2010. What do you need today if you are direct-marketing your farm products and services to your customers? Social media networks and customer-friendly websites are two examples of “must have” promotional tools for your farm or ranch.
Marin’s producers are using these tools to their advantage. Blogging from your website or Facebook is one way to keep your fans and customers connected to you. Loren Poncia from Stemple Creek Ranch is a daily blogger. He and his family raise organic, grass-fed beef and all-natural lamb on organic pastureland near Tomales. Loren now manages the ranch with his dad Al, who if you asked him what blogging was, would probably say “is that a new board game?” Generational preferences count! Their website is synced with Facebook and Twitter so you can get there from either direction.
Use the shop function on Facebook to create an ifanstore if you plan to ship or sell products by mail. Michael, the store manager for Cowgirl Creamery, comments, “Using Facebook, we are interacting with our customers/fans in a much more direct and immediate manner. And from a purely commercial standpoint we are able to keep them informed on our latest products, specials, and events. By posting about a variety of subjects related to other cheese-makers, artisan cheese in general, and sustainable agriculture, we are furthering content that supports Cowgirl and the issues we think are important to our business.”
Gather your customer email addresses (with their approval of course) and ask them to sign on as a fan at Facebook or from your website where you can gather great reviews of your products. Tripadvisor (www.TripAdvisor.com) is used by one out of every four travelers. Check to see if your place of sale (farmers market, farm) is there and ask a customer to add and rate you. Some operators have experimented with online sales via Craigslist. Julie and Tony Rossotti at Rossotti Ranch decided to try it out but reported that, “We haven’t had much luck with Craigslist. We mainly posted on it hoping we might get a response, but usually don’t. We sell most of our meat goats through the Bay Area Meat CSA website (bamcsa.ning.com) or to dinner and tour guests to our farm.”
Chileno Valley Ranch uses www.pickyourown.org/ to market their fall apple crop and has found it to be very successful in bringing customers to their ranch. This online directory, while not fancy, comes up first no matter what you type in for your search. If your talents lie closer to the land you farm and ranch, and you don’t have a son or daughter or employee who uses these free promotional tools, look for an intern who can help you set these up. Facebook is easy to use and might be the perfect place to start.
Use Google™ alerts to track what the media and others are saying about you. It’s a fabulous free clipping service. You can harvest the promotion and comments you find and link or post them on your site. Sign up at http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/.
The Oxbow Public Market’s January e-newsletter came this week. As I scrolled down to the Hog Island article, I noticed they had linked directly to YouTube to view the Hog Island segment in Hidden Bounty of Marin. Any of you can set this up with your websites, Facebook, etc., and simply link to any footage that you or others have taken of your stall, farm, or products. Type your ranch or farm name into YouTube—there might be something there already.
“The social media revolution is radically changing how direct-marketing farmers communicate with their customers,” said Michael Straus, founder of Straus Communications (www.StrausCom.com) and former VP Marketing of Straus Family Creamery. If you haven’t explored any of these tools yet—now is the time.
-- Ellie Rilla, adapted from the second edition of the “Designing Your Marketing Strategy” from “Agritourism & Nature Tourism in California,” UC ANR Publications, 2010.